5 Reasons Why Cocke County TN Is Not the Worst

U.S. Bank in beautiful downtown Newport, TN

U.S. Bank in beautiful downtown Newport, TN (photo by Dan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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Cocke County TN has been identified as the worst county in the state of Tennessee. Who says? The good folks at 24/7 Wall St.

They identified three categories – life expectancy at birth, percentage of the population with bachelor’s degrees and poverty rate – to determine the worst counties in which to live for all 50 states. 

For those who are unaware, Cocke County Tennessee is located near Sevier County and Knoxville along the state line.

For those who work in the tourism mecca of Sevier County, Newport may be a good option to live with an average commute time of approximately 45 minutes or so.

We will assume that the article’s data calling Cocke County the worst is correct. Cocke County’s life expectancy is lower than the rest of the state, the poverty rate is higher than we’d like compared to the national average. And the number of bachelor’s degrees per capita is whatever the heck it is.

But that’s how we rate a county? 


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What cities are included in Cocke County TN?

Cocke County includes the towns of Bybee, Cosby, Del Rio, Hartford, Newport and Parrotsville. The largest town is Newport and the second largest town is Cosby.

Is Cocke County TN actually the worst place to live in Tennessee?

In my years in Tennessee, I’ve explored most of the state. I’ve set foot and spent extensive time in every county in East Tennessee. And I can tell you without question that Cocke County is not the worst place to live in Tennessee.

It’s not even the worst place to live in East Tennessee.

That being said, I applaud 24/7 Wall Street’s content-generating creativity. However, we wish to offer a retort, in defense.

Now, you may be asking, what are the worst places to live in Tennessee if not Cocke County?

I have my thoughts, but I’m not looking to knock anyone down. I prefer to lift Cocke County TN up. So without further ado, here are some of the reasons Cocke County is an awesome place to live or visit. 

Popcorn Sutton
The legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton (photo shared with permission from Sucker Punch Pictures)

5. Cocke County is interesting

Cocke County still had a reputation when I first moved to Tennessee.

In many ways, it was the purest distillation of the insular mountain culture that developed in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina and was celebrated the world over. 

As new Volunteers, we were told to avoid Cocke County if we could.

Chop shops were abundant as were moonshine operations and marijuana growers. Cock fighting was thought of as a family tradition and corruption among elected officials and law enforcement was open and well-known.

While those things wouldn’t make it on a brochure, it’s part of the history of the mountain people.

According to records in the archives, in 1797, the 443 square miles of Cocke County were cordoned off from Jefferson County.

A new county was formed, named after William Cocke, a Revolutionary War soldier.

For better or worse, Cocke County was one of the last real bastions of the old mountain lawlessness that captured national attention.

Subsequently, the people of Cocke County decided they’d had enough of the old ways and began concerted campaigns to root out lawlessness and corruption in recent years.

And the Cocke County Chamber of Commerce, along with the Cocke County partnership, believes in a shared vision for the County, with economic opportunities for everyone involved.

Read Also: Popcorn Sutton and His Moonshine: 6 Surprising Facts (With Pictures)

mountains in newport tn
Cocke County is located right next to the Great Smoky Mountains. For people that truly want undisturbed mountains and beautiful views, Newport TN is the place to be (photo by Dan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Cocke County is beautiful

With Cocke County’s location near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and being traversed by the Big Pigeon River and French Broad River, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful area.

While the tomatoes aren’t as good as those in Grainger County, you’ll find that it’s a country place where it isn’t hard to find farmers growing vegetables and raising cattle.

Visitors can drive through Cosby or Hartford or take the back road to Max Patch in Del Rio. They can go find a spot down by the river or go horseback riding.

If you drive the backroads and explore Cocke County, you’ll find that it is a magnificent part of the country that reaches into the national forest. If you want to live among natural beauty, you could do a lot worse than Cocke County. 

Read Also: How Do You Access Max Patch NC? Tips on Hiking, Wildlife, What To Wear

fox and hound restaurant
Fox and Hounds is a local favorite “hole in the wall” restaurant in Cocke County (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Cocke County is adventurous

Do you want to enjoy outdoor sports? Cocke County is home to the best whitewater rafting and kayaking in Northeast Tennessee. In fact, it proudly sports the nickname: The Adventurous Side of the Smokies.

The county is also home to outdoor activities like great hiking, zip-lining, mudding and much more.

Visitors can hike the trails and enjoy the wildlife and so much more in the Cocke County area. If you want to live in a place where you can enjoy some adventure and recreation in the great outdoors, Cocke County is certainly a better spot than many in the state. 

mountains of cocke county tn at sunset
If we were ranking counties on beautiful mountain landscapes, Cocke County would easily be in the top five (photo by Dan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Cocke County can be surprisingly diverse

Don’t get me wrong here, Cocke County has and continues to have its issues as does just about every place in the country that suffered homogeny long enough to allow stereotypes to build.

But Newport was one of the first communities in East Tennessee to elect a Black mayor and one of the first to elect a Hispanic county sheriff.

Cocke County has its issues. It is certainly not a utopia, but it has a history of surpassing outsiders’ expectations.

For example, the history of Dr. Dennis Branch, a Black doctor who rose to national prominence serving the tiny mountain community gives a wonderful insight into the complicated subject of civil rights in the mountains.

Are these isolated cases? Yes. But find other small mountain communities with similar stories. 

empower cocke county in tn
Faith-based, locally owned and operated non-profits like Empower Cocke County are focused on raising the people of Cocke County up with services like vocational rehabilitation. To donate to this important mission, please visit their website.

1. Cocke County is full of wonderful people

Above all, people, as bad as they can be, are still pretty awesome.

I’ve lived in a lot of places and traveled to many, many more. I’ve never been to a place where I thought, man, these locals just suck.

But, by and large, there is something special about the citizens of East Tennessee and its communities like Cocke County.

They can be frustrating and stubborn. But also loving, and giving and forgiving.

They rally to each other’s aid and will help a stranger in need with nearly everything they’ve got. Local grassroots faith-based community-run non-profits such as Empower Cocke County target important issues like vocational rehabilitation and lift up their own to improve quality of life.

I’ve been to places – including lots of rural places – where I wondered what would happen if my car broke down. What I would do if I had an emergency? I don’t have that doubt in Cocke County.

Its people may not have as many bachelor’s degrees per capita as in other places. They may not have as much material wealth, but they are proud of themselves, each other and their home.

Have you visited Cocke County? Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments.


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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

2 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Cocke County TN Is Not the Worst”

  1. I live in cocke county .moved here from Lakeland FL. And I can say it’s the most beautiful place to live. As far as crime goes it’s a lot less than I saw in FL.

  2. I was born in Cocke co. And have lived in other places. I am aware of some of the negative things about us. I have spiritual snake handlers who are the best people you will ever find. While the number of PhDs are less than other places, the real intelligence of some of the people are very impressive. Cocke co. Is changing. I just hope thos ise who are moving to this glorious place will adapt to its ways and not try to change it.

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